Tap Into Your Inner Geek with Shaun Gallagher, Author of ‘Experimenting with Babies’

Shaun Gallagher taps into his creativity as a dad and his fun inner scientific geek in his new book, Experimenting with Babies. He writes: “As a child, I loved tinkering with my Radio Shack 50-in-1 science project kit. Now that I’ve got two young children of my own, I’ve made them my science projects, and I’m having more fun than ever.

Back then, I wired rudimentary circuits to activate a buzzer or light up a diode. Nowadays, I experiment with ways to help Ben, 1, and Joel, 3, learn new skills that light up their faces. But my parenting approach isn’t all trial and error. I take cues from the work of infant-development researchers, who have used the scientific method to reveal helpful, and often astounding, new insights into how babies grow, learn, move, speak, and behave.

In Experimenting With Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid, I’ve taken published academic studies from various fields of infant research and adapted them so parents can perform them on their own babies, with no special equipment needed. The projects are simple and completely safe — in fact, I’ve tried a bunch of them on my own boys — and they’re sure to increase your fascination with the coolest science project you’ll ever get to conduct experiments on: your own baby.

Try this one:

The In-Plain-Sight Switcheroo
Age: 6-24 months

Experiment: Place two easy-to-reach containers (such as small cardboard boxes) in front of your baby. Show the baby a toy, and then place it in container A. Allow the baby to retrieve it from container A. Repeat the process several times, each time placing the toy in container A. Then place the toy in container B.

Hypothesis: Babies younger than one will reach toward container A for the toy even though they saw you put it in container B. By around their first birthday, babies will reach toward container B for the toy.

Research: The A-not-B error, also called the perserverative error, among younger babies was observed in 1954 by Jean Piaget…Some researchers believe that habituation–that is, repeated motor movement toward container A–causes the error, but a 1997 study suggest more complex factors. In that study, two groups of infants were tested using a version of the classic A-not-B test. They were prompted to remove the lid from an empty container  A several times, then prompted to remove the lid from container B. One group saw a toy being placed into container B before they were directed to move the lid. The other group did not. If mere motor habituation were the cause of the A-not-B error, the results of both groups should be the same because both were habituated to removing the lid from container A. However, the results showed that babies who saw a toy being placed in container B were less likely to make the error. The researchers acknowledge that questions remain about what exactly causes the error, but the results of their study show that motor habituation alone isn’t a sufficient explanation.

Takeaway: Don’t be so quick to laugh at your baby’s error unless you’ve ever been fooled by a magic trick. Your little one will get bonus points for eventually figuring it out.

Reprinted from Experimenting with Babies by Shaun Gallagher by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, Copyright © 2013 by Shaun Gallagher

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